Cat bites can be even more serious than dog bites, doctor says

If you’ve ever been the victim of an animal attack, you’re probably aware of the necessity for antibiotic treatment and the potential need for expensive and painful rabies vaccinations. If the bite was serious, you may have endured permanent scarring or nerve damage, or even had to undergo skin grafts or other surgery.

When we think of domestic animal attacks, we usually think of dog bites. Being attacked by a dog can be terrifying, and the injuries can be serious, especially for children.

A cat bite may not be so fear-inducing, but a recent interview with Dr. Joseph Liewer, head of the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, highlighted the fact that cat bites can be as serious — or even more serious — than dog bites.

Cats’ sharp teeth can inject bacteria directly into puncture wounds

“We are aggressive in our treatment of cat bites,” explained Dr. Liewer. “With any bite there is a threat of infection, but cat bites have more potential for problems.”

Although dog bites are more commonly seen in emergency rooms than cat bites, infections are actually more frequent when it comes to cat bites. Part of the reason is that dog bites typically require laceration repair, so people seek medical treatment right away.

“A dog bite is more of a tearing wound that may not lead to a serious infection because it would likely be cleaned more appropriately either at a medical facility or at home, thus decreasing the bacterial contamination in the wound,” said Liewer.

“A cat bite is more like a puncture wound,” he explained. “It’s almost like injecting bacteria right into you.”

While cat bites may appear less serious initially, people should be aware of the potential for serious infections. As with dog bites, there is the possibility of rabies, but cat bites also carry the risk of tetanus. It’s not a situation to take lightly.

“Usually people don’t come in until infection has developed,” Liewer says. “The infection could go into a tendon or joint, or travel into the deeper structures of your hand, which is a valuable part of your body. It certainly has the potential for a serious situation.”

Depending on the severity and location of the bite and the victim’s general health, a regimen of IV antibiotics given every several hours may be necessary. The IV approach gets a higher concentration of the antibiotics into the patient’s system.

Just as with strange dogs, people should be cautious when approaching an unknown cat — especially one that seems to be in distress, Liewer recommended.

“Animals may not understand that you are trying to help and may possibly take it out on you,” he said. “As much as people interact with cats, their bites should always be responded to with concern.”

Source: Sioux City Journal via STLtoday.com, “Doctor: Cat bites need to be treated aggressively,” Joanne Foxjfox, March 29, 2011